David Berlinski Writer, Thinker, and Raconteur


Following is a sampling of some classic essays and shorter articles written by David Berlinski. A printed collection of essays is available in The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (DI Press, 2009).

Articles at Discovery.org

Right of Reply: Our Response to Jerry Coyne

Jerry Coyne has offered a response in the pages of Quillette to David Gelernter’s provocative article, “Giving Up Darwin.” Gelernter rejected the standard model of neo-Darwinian evolution for a simple reason: he looked at three pieces of scientific evidence that appeared to be incompatible with that model.

The King of Infinite Space: Euclid and His Elements

In this brief, accessible foray, popular math/science writer Berlinski (Newton’s Gift) breathes life into an ancient mathematician and the world of axioms and theorems he created — a geometric world that became the basis for much of modern math, from analytic geometry to the idea of curved space-time. To Berlinski, Euclid’s fourth-century B.C., 13-volume Elements is a manifestation of his “intense demand for an idealized world.” In small, precise steps, Euclid spells out five axioms, or assumptions, about points, lines, and angles, and what it means when two things are “equal” — everything needed to describe shapes in space. Berlinski writes, “In every generation, a few students have found themselves ravished by the Elements”; so too will even the most math-averse

The Dang Thing

John Derbyshire and the movie he hasn't seen.
In an essay published recently on National Review Online, John Derbyshire has declared that the documentary Expelled contains a blood libel against Western Civilization. His is an exercise of striking vulgarity, the more so since, as he insouciantly admits, he has not “seen the dang thing.” A blood libel, one might recall, refers to the charge that the Jewish people are irredeemably stained by their occasional, if modest, need for Christian blood. Some terms have acquired through their historical associations a degree of repugnance that persuades sensitive men and women not to use them. If Derbyshire has been repelled by the smell of blood, it is a revulsion that he has successfully overcome.  Having not seen the documentary that he proposes to criticize,

The Scientific Embrace of Atheism

At sometime after the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin first entered space, stories began to circulate that he had been given secret instructions by the Politburo. Have a look around, they told him. Suitably instructed, Gagarin looked around. When he returned without having seen the face of God, satisfaction in high circles was considerable. The commissars having vacated the scene, it is the scientific community that has acquired their authority. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Weinberg, Vic Stenger, Sam Harris, and most recently the mathematician John Paulos, have had a look around: They haven’t seen a thing. No one could have seen less. It is curious that so many scientists should have recently embraced atheism. The great physical scientists — Copernicus, Kepler,

Connecting Hitler and Darwin

One man — Charles Darwin — says: “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals…” Another man — Adolf Hitler — says: Let us kill all the Jews of Europe. Is there a connection? Yes obviously is the answer of the historical record and common sense. Published in 1859, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species said nothing of substance about the origin of species. Or anything else, for that matter. It nonetheless persuaded scientists in England, Germany and the United States that human beings were accidents of creation. Where Darwin had seen species struggling for survival, German physicians, biologists, and professors of hygiene saw races. They drew the obvious conclusion, the one that Darwin had already drawn. In the

Inside the Mathematical Mind

When physicists write books for the general public, they write about black holes, dark matter, or strings that wriggle like mad. The universe is their subject. Mathematicians write about mathematics and what it all means. Their subject is their subject. The mathematician David Ruelle is well known for his work on nonlinear dynamics and turbulence, and his new book, “The Mathematician’s Brain” (Princeton University Press, 172 pages, $22.95), is a book about mathematics and what it all means. If the entomologist studies bugs, and the linguist languages, just what is it the mathematician studies? Sets, numbers, equations—that much is clear. Thereafter, everything solid dissolves into thin air. What is a number? Or a set? Or a shape, for that matter? If mathematicians

On the Origins of Life

Even as our understanding has advanced dramatically, our explanations of how life emerged on earth continue to rest on yet-to-be-proved…
I suspect it would be more prudent to recall how much has been assumed: First, that the pre-biotic atmosphere was chemically reductive; second, that nature found a way to synthesize cytosine; third, that nature also found a way to synthesize ribose; fourth, that nature found the means to assemble nucleotides into polynucleotides; fifth, that nature discovered a self-replicating molecule; and sixth, that having done all that, nature promoted a self-replicating molecule into a full system of coded chemistry. These assumptions are not only vexing but progressively so, ending in a serious impediment to thought.

Copernicus Stages A Comeback

Special to the London Gazette
More than sixty years after the famous Galileo “The Earth it Moves” trial in Rome, Copernicus is in the news again, this time in the form of a so-called theory of universal gravitation (or UG, as it has come to be known). Headquartered at the Royal Society, a think tank in London funded by well-heeled royalist donors, members of the universal gravitation movement argue that the facts of astronomy are so complicated that they require the introduction of a mysterious “universal force of gravitation.” But when queried, members decline to specify the author of this force, saying only (according to a public spokesman) that “In this, we are agnostic.” Unlike the old breed of Copernicists, universal gravitation theorists sport established degrees from

Our Silent Partners

We are animals in our appetites, and animals again in our instincts and emotions. We are animals in biology. Blood is blood, tissue is tissue, and cells are cells; and when everything is stripped away, we are animals in the organization of our genes, mindful now that but for a few alterations of the human genome, we might well be slithering about in some abysmal pond or lowing in the field, or even contemplating the mysteries of life as a form of yeast. What the medievals called the great chain of being is a vibrant faith in contemporary biology, and so in evolutionary psychology as well. Everything is connected.  We are animals in our appetites, and animals again in our instincts and emotions. We are animals in biology. Blood is blood, tissue is tissue, and cells are cells; and

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